A new series of shouts went up from some ways off in the plain, and the Liberators stopped firing and carefully peeked from around Blue Diamond and Stonewall, trying to look at what was causing or making the shouts.

The Defender was using a pair of high-powered mechanical binoculars to scan the field; when he and the Patriot and the Crimson Commando had gone on their mission, back in September, with the Marine Raiders, to attack the Japanese base at Taivu, on Guadalcanal, Doc Savage had given each of them a special set of these binoculars, which he said were controlled by “computers.” The Defender was Don Stevens, a plain old U.S. Marine from Hayes Center, Nebraska, and he didn’t know from “computers” (a “computer” was someone who computes. Wasn’t it?) but whatever it was Savage had done to or with the binoculars, they sure worked well. Incredibly well, in fact; focussing with them was very easy, and the images shockingly clear, no matter how far away they were aimed. So the Defender was the first to see what was coming at them.

“Oh god.” His voice, usually so confident and upbeat--Don Stevens was a U.S. Marine first and the Defender second, and as a Marine he knew that there were only a few things in life that a U.S. Marine could not handle, and that those few and-so-rare-as-to-be-wholly-unlikely things one U.S. Marine could not handle could be handled with the assistance of a second member of his beloved Corps--betrayed dread and something close to a bowel-loosening fear, and those closest to him did double-takes, the first at what he said and the second and longer look at how he said it. It was the Falcon who finally spoke up. “Defender, what’s wrong now? It can’t be worse than that big metal thing.”

The Defender put down his binoculars and his Liberator, cupped his hands over his mouth, and began shouting to the rest of the team, “Murderer’s Row to the front! Murderer’s Row to the front!”

This drew surprised looks from nearly everyone, but the note of command in his voice [1] left no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Defender was a) serious, b) afraid, and c) ready to shoot anyone who disobeyed him. The Defender was usually much quieter than the Patriot, the Commando, or Cap himself, when the time came for the giving and following of orders, but when he did speak like this, he fully expected everyone to jump, and to be eager and honored to have the privilege to follow his orders.[2]

Most of the other Liberators instantly shifted position, providing covering fire as the members of Murderer’s Row scuttled forward and gathered around the Defender. When they were all around him, Namor said, “Speak, Defender, and be quick about it; there is more than enough to occupy us in this place without you burdening us with something else.”

The Defender turned an almost-wild-eyed look on the Atlantean and said, “Someone’s been bringing back armies from the past, right? We’ve seen Vikings and Mongols and and Romans and I don’t know what else. Well, now they’ve unleashed the Moros, and they’re coming right at us.”

The more historically-minded among those in hearing range groaned and gripped their Liberators and other weapons with a white-knuckled intensity, using their own binoculars to look for this new enemy. Everyone else, however, looked at the Defender with a combination of ignorance--who were the Moros?--and irritation--who was the Defender to take command in a situation like this?

Namor crossed his arms, looked down his aquiline nose at the Defender, and said, “I do not see that that concerns me, or those of us more powerful than ordinary humans. These Moros are simply men, and any one of us is more than a match for dozens of humans.” Namor spoke English with an American accent, but there was something about the way he said the word “human” betrayed an unmistakeable and unplaceable foreign accent; it also put one in mind of an Orthodox rabbi discovering that he’d been served a ham-and-bacon-and cheese sandwich. With mayonnaise. On white bread.

The Defender lunged forward and stopped only a few inches from Namor’s face. “You don’t understand--these aren’t ordinary humans--these are Moros! Filipinos! They don’t die like ordinary humans! Back in 1899 the Marines tried to kill them with ordinary weapons--and THEY DIDN’T WORK! THEY HAD TO INVENT THE COLT .45 JUST TO STOP THE MOROS! YOU DON’T KILL A MORO WITH ONE SHOT, YOU JUST HALT HIM IN HIS TRACKS FOR LONG ENOUGH FOR YOU TO SHOOT HIM SIX OR EIGHT TIMES! AND EVEN THEN IT DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK! IT--”

The Defender realized he was shrieking and abruptly fell silent. He stole a lit cigarette from Dakor’s mouth and killed it with two long pulls. With a shaking hand he flicked the butt away from him and after an effort calmed himself long enough to speak in an ordinary voice. “These aren’t normal men. These are Moros. Ordinary men die when you shoot them. Moros keep coming. You can take the head and arms and legs off a Moro, and then get killed when they throw themselves forward and impale you on their rib cages.”

He turned and pointed out at the plain, where the mass of dark bodies was no visible without the aid of the binoculars, and said, “And someone’s brought them all back, it looks like, and they’re charging us.”

With that he stood up and began firing his Liberator into the surging crowd.

The Murderer’s Row members dismissed the Defender’s words as combat fatigue--they’d gone up against the Summerfire Brigade in North Africa and handled them, and a bunch of ordinary men and women, no matter how tough, didn’t frighten them--and were starting to drift back to their old positions when they saw what happened when the rocket-propelled explosive bullets of the Defender’s Liberator hit the oncoming Moros. The Defender was a good marksman, as all Marines were, and each of his bullets hit an arm or a leg or a chest, with the bullets exploding on impact.

It didn’t matter. The Moros didn’t blink or hesitate, somehow ignoring the loss of an arm; those who lost a leg picked themselves up and hopped forward, still clutching and waving their machetes and spears. Those who took chest wounds stopped in their tracks for a moment, blinked, then charged forward, not paying attention to the gaping hole in their chest and occasionally the nearly-foot-wide exit wound in their back.

The Murderer’s Row, almost as one, brought their weapons up and their powers to bear and began firing at the waves of men and women who were now only a few yards away from them and coming fast, undeterred by mortal wounds appearing in their own or their neighbors’ bodies or, in fact, their neighbors’ bodies disintegrating altogether.

[1] Something that never failed to surprise and amuse the Liberators was just how much alike certain groups of the Liberators were. It was more than just a shared racial or ethnic background; those who had gotten to know Red Wolf and Silent Fox and Jonathan Twoyoungmen quickly saw that they had little more in common besides being Indians. Like the magicians, they ate together more in reaction to being outsiders among so many “normal” people than because of any innate similarity.

It was more that some of the Liberators had a lot in common--shared affinities and personality traits. Blue Blade was in his better days a wicked gossip with an acid tongue, and Miss Fury, who back in the States was a New York socialite with many contacts in Caifornia, loved talking Hollywood with him and exchanging delightfully scandalous stories with him--about Rita Hayworth doing horizontal favors for whoever Howard Hughes was calling his friend this month, for example. And the Moon Man, the Silver Scorpion, and the Yankee Clipper, who weren’t Hollywood intimates but loved the movies, ate the stories up. Likewise, Doc Savage, Don Gorman, Hercules, the Invisible Man, Rockman, Taxi Taylor and 2X were all much smarter-than-normal men who were quite good at inventing new weapons and technology and were socially awkward; they found solace from the uncomfortable aspects of being members of the Liberators by huddling together when they could and bouncing ideas off of each other.

The most prominent example, though, and the one that struck them all, nearly every day, were what Miss Fury and the Silver Scorpion had dubbed “the Grants.” The Scorpion thought, and most of the women in the Liberators agreed with her on this, that Cary Grant was the most handsome man in existence; Miss Fury held out for Clark Gable, but everyone agreed she had odd tastes in men. But the Grants would have given either of them a run for their money.

Captain America, Captain Wonder, Citizen V, Crimson Commando, Defender, Destroyer, Patriot, the Spirit of 76, and the Union Jack were all tall, handsome, fit and athletic, with square jaws, tight butts, and a mutual manner that made the women variously swoon, froth at the mouth, and think very indecent thoughts. They were all very moral men, with the exception of Captain Wonder, who’d gone far downhill since Tim was killed, and the Crimson Commando, who though polite seemed to have a brutal streak that most of the women found repulsive but which Miss Fury found oddly arousing. They were all very courteous and nice to the women, regardless of the circumstances. They were all very brave, never shirking from the deadliest of fight and never displaying a moment of fear regardless of what they faced. And most of all each one of the Grants were assertive, take-charge types who immediately assumed command of every situation (unless Captain America was involved; everyone always deferred to him). It didn’t matter what the exercise was, or where the Liberators were; when they broke into teams, each team’s Grant would take charge of the group. Not that the Liberators minded this; the Grants were always very organised, very skillful at seeing what needed to be done and who was best for what job, and they were all quite good at rapidly reacting and adjusting to changing circumstances. And they all had a certain tone of voice they used when they had to take control of a situation; something in their voice made you want to jump up and salute, to do what they said even if you thought it was a bad idea. It was odd, and sometimes Bucky and Rusty thought that the Grants had all gotten special training for this somewhere, but they all had it, and it worked in spades on the other Liberators.

[2] Rusty, when he’d still been alive, had said that Don was just being a typical Marine in that. Bucky, who’d already had more experience with the various branches of the American armed forces, disagreed, and said that Don was being “Super-Marine.” The first time that Bucky had said that, Rusty had taken offense, and they’d ended up in a fistfight, with Bucky thoroughly whipping Rusty; Bucky waited until Rusty came around, and then explained to him that he didn’t mean that as an insult. (Bucky was lying, but he knew the value of a well-timed falsehood) Rusty took Bucky at his word and went away happy.

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